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Road Diaries: Connectivity or How to Work from the Road

My partner Ben and I both work full-time while traveling. With many people beginning to permanently work from home due to Covid-19, this seems to be a growing trend. Since we spent a lot of time researching how to create the most reliable mobile work situation, I thought it would be a good time to share how we manage working on the road. There are so many ways to make it work so I encourage anyone considering it to do the research to figure out what works for them.

First, a bit of background: I’m a project management consultant by trade and I volunteer with multiple organizations in my free time. That means I facilitate quite a few meetings, many of them online video calls. Ben is a Software Developer so he’s constantly uploading and testing data and also engages in multiple video calls each week. And lastly, we spend much of our time away from cities, tucked away in deserts and forests. All of this to say, we knew we would need a robust internet strategy to work while on the road. I’ve included some details about how we’ve managed to make it work below. 

Data Usage: Before we made any decisions, we first needed to determine the amount of data we would need in a given month. We found that Bandwidth+ is really helpful with this! It’s a computer application that tracks how much data is consumed in a 24 hour period, and breaks the usage down by internet source. Monitoring Bandwidth+ helped us to understand just how much data each of us use during an average day, and to understand how data hungry different applications are.

•./ Zephyr TMo 
Zephyr MiFi 
Tue Dec 15 2 
1.08 GB 
2.61 GB 
436.0 MB

According to the screenshot above, I’ve used three different hotspots within the current 24 hour period. I’ve used Ping-Phone the most at 2.06GBs (Gigabytes) download and 0.56GBs upload – it’s the most reliable mobile service in the area we’re currently in so I’ve used it for video and screen share calls today. I’ve also used 1.08GBs of Zephyr TMo and 436 megabytes (1 gigabyte = 1000 megabytes) of Zephyr MiFi during casual work hours. Ben and I found that we typically use around 1.5GBs each in one day, but could sometimes use 4 or more GBs if we have multiple video calls or need to download / upload large files. To keep track of how much data I’m using, I’ve set Bandwidth+ to open upon start-up so it’s always displayed at the top of my screen. Also, something to note: if automatic updates for applications or the operating system are enabled, they will quickly eat a lot of data. Without an unlimited data plan, it may be smart to disable these and make a point to schedule updates when on an unlimited service.

  • Bandwidth+

Mobile Data Plans: Since we work full-time and use quite a bit of data, we knew we would need unlimited coverage. And pre-COVID, we were expecting to travel a lot so we made the decision to utilize multiple data options. We have Verizon and AT&T hotspots to make sure we always have a strong internet signal. We also have a T-Mobile hotspot that isn’t as reliable but can be surprisingly helpful in some remote areas so we’ve hesitated to cancel the plan. Some options outside of the regular carriers:

  • Cricket (AT&T 3rd party seller) we’ve found that data boosts with Cricket are extremely cheap ($10 for 15 additional GBs)
  • Verizon Prepaid hotspot – most expensive and most reliable

Signal Booster: Because we knew we would be in the woods, away from cities during most of our travels, we also knew we would need an option outside of the standard coffee shop wifi. So, we prioritized diversifying our service providers and boosting our data signals. I mentioned above that we have prepaid plans with the top mobile data providers. We also have a cell phone signal booster from WeBoost. WeBoost has helped a ton with boosting cell signal in places where it’s weak. We’ve seen our cell service go from No Service at all to limited LTE, or even better when there is some service available. And it didn’t require much set-up.

  • Weboost Cell Phone Signal Booster

Signal Speed: Speaking of data speeds, another really helpful application we use is SpeedTest by Ookla. It allows us to quickly determine how fast the mobile service is and whether we can work in a particular place.  Typical cell phone data speeds are 10-20MB/s (megabytes per second). 10MB/s is usually fine for online calls, ideally at least 15-20MB/s for video calls. And 5+MB/s is so-so if you’re just working all day without online calls. Also note: typically, I talk about download speeds; however, with video calls and data uploads, upload speeds become important because it’s what’s being uploaded for others to see (video, screen, documents, etc.).

  • SpeedTest by Ookla

Some other really helpful tools we use on a daily basis:

  • iOverlander – this application utilizes user-submitted resources and reviews to provide information about camp spots, water, propane, area cell service, etc.
  • FreeRoam – I can’t say enough good things about this app. It provides an updated map of BLM and National Forest land in the US that we depend on often when looking for parking in a new place. It also allows the overlay of US cell carrier network maps.

That’s it for now! For folks that are hitting the road during this time: be safe for the sake of others and work to minimize the impact on small communities. Feel free to reach out if you’re interested in hearing how we’ve managed to do so. – @threevancats

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